Your car communicates with you through different sounds and light icons. The importance of the different signals it gives you varies, but one icon you should never ignore is check engine light orange color in the shape of an engine that lights up on the dashboard; This alerts you that the vehicle has a problem that, although it may not be serious, you should check before it is.
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Oxygen sensor failure
The oxygen sensor (sometimes called O2 sensor) measures the amount of this unburned chemical in a car’s exhaust system. The sensor sends this data to the vehicle’s computer in order to regulate the air-fuel mixture going into the cylinders. A car will still run, even if an O2 sensor needs to be replaced, but it will burn more fuel than normal. In the long term, a bad O2 sensor can damage components like the spark plugs and catalytic converter. It may also be responsible for your car failing an emissions test.
On average, a good quality O2 sensor will set you back about $175, although labor costs will vary widely; It will depend on the brand, the model, your geographical location. Oh, and one more thing: keep in mind that most late model cars have more than one O2 sensor.
loose gas cap
A loose gas cap is one of the most common reasons the check engine light comes on. Believe it or not, the cap is a crucial part of a car’s fuel flow system as it prevents gasoline fumes from leaving the fuel tank and helps keep the entire system under the correct pressure.
If the check engine light comes on immediately after you’ve filled up, stop and make sure the cap isn’t loose…or still on the roof of your car, as more than a few of us have. Sometimes it is necessary to replace it, but it is not a problem that is going to be very expensive. Most auto parts stores sell universal fit gas caps for around $15.
catalytic converter failure
The catalytic converter it is integrated into the exhaust system of a vehicle. It converts the carbon monoxide generated during the combustion process into carbon dioxide. It is a fairly simple part, and its failure can often be avoided. This is good news, because a new converter costs between $200 and $600, depending on the brand of converter and the model of your car. Every new car that runs on gasoline will come with a catalytic converter.
Performing regular maintenance on time — like oil changes — is key to keeping your vehicle’s catalytic converter in good shape. If you live in the city and drive mostly short distances, take a drive down a highway sometime to make sure the catalytic converter doesn’t clog. And, as always, keep your eyes and ears open for discolored smoke coming out of the exhaust or unusual sounds.
Spark plugs / ignition coil
Simply put, an ignition coil generates the electricity that the spark plugs need to ignite the fuel-air mixture in the cylinders. Classic cars have only one coil, but many modern vehicles use one coil per cylinder. If your car has a V8 under the hood, you may have eight separate coils. The monstrous Bugatti Chiron has 16. Actually, it doesn’t matter how many you have: a malfunctioning coil will cause the check engine light on your dashboard to come on. Just remember that if your car burns diesel, it won’t have ignition coils or spark plugs, so don’t go looking for them!
Speaking of spark plugs, worn or dirty plugs can also cause a variety of problems, including engine misfire and hesitation under hard acceleration. A worn coil can exhibit the same symptoms and can cause your car’s engine to stop unexpectedly. A high-quality spark plug costs between $10 and $20, while a coil is usually in the $50 range. Changing the spark plugs yourself is also easier than it seems.
Bad spark plug wires
As you might guess, the spark plug wire is in charge of transferring the electricity from the coil to the spark plug. Without it, the fuel-air mixture in the cylinders will not ignite. A vast majority of cars use a single wire per cylinder, but there are models, especially some older Mercedes-Benzes, with two spark plugs per cylinder and therefore two wires.
Symptoms of faulty cables include poor idling, a noticeable drop in engine performance, and reduced fuel consumption. Be prepared to spend around $50 for a set of spark plug wires.
Air flow sensor failure
The Mass Air Flow Sensor (MAF) monitors the amount of this gas mixture entering the engine. It’s part of the engine management system, so your car wouldn’t be able to adjust to changes in altitude without it. Symptoms of a MAF failure include a rough idle, trouble starting, and a sudden change in accelerator pedal position. Reduced gas mileage and stalling can also indicate a MAF problem.
Problems with an aftermarket alarm
An aftermarket (non-factory) alarm can wreak havoc on your car if it’s not installed correctly. It can drain the battery, activate the check engine light, or even prevent the vehicle from starting.
If the above issues sound familiar, you’ll need to have it repaired, reinstalled, or completely replaced. You will have to spend a little more, but the peace of mind that comes with having a fully functional alarm is priceless.
Every car has a vacuum system that performs a wide variety of functions. The brake booster works on a vacuum, and the vacuum system also helps reduce harmful emissions by channeling fumes as gasoline evaporates through the engine. If your car’s idle starts to rise or sits at an unusually high speed, the cause could be a vacuum leak.
Vacuum hoses can dry out and crack as they age, especially if they are exposed to intense heat or extreme cold. This is the most common cause of vacuum leaks. Other common problems include cracked fittings and loose connections. Vacuum connections cost only a few dollars each, though tracing the source of the leak can be time-consuming, and expensive if you don’t do the work yourself.
EGR valve failure
The exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide coming out of the car’s engine, helping it run more efficiently. It directs the exhaust gases into the combustion chambers, which heats the fuel and makes it easier to burn. It also reduces emissions.
The EGR valve can become clogged or fail completely. If you know anything about mechanics, you can remove the valve, clean it, and reinstall it in a relatively short time. If the valve needs to be replaced, expect to pay at least $125 for a new, OE-quality unit.
The battery is something as simple as it is important: without it, your car will not start, it will not turn on the headlights on the road or charge your phone, although the latter is almost the least important. Today’s batteries last much longer than ever before and require no maintenance. The price of a new one depends on the type of car you drive, but be prepared to spend at least $100 for a quality battery.
Changing or charging a battery yourself is a relatively easy task, although you should be aware that some late model cars hide the battery under countless plastic covers and it can be a bit difficult to access. Also, remember that unplugging the battery will often erase your stereo’s settings. If you don’t have the code, please ask your local dealer before releasing the terminals. Otherwise, you will be driving in silence.
The light is still on… now what?
Although modern cars are full of high technology, it is possible to figure out why the check engine light is on with a device you can get on your own at specialty stores. Most owners simply take their car to the dealer – it’s the easiest and most logical option, but also the most expensive.
If you want to skip the repair shop visit and there are no contractual impediments to that (such as an extended warranty from the dealer), spend a few bucks on a Bluetooth-enabled OBD II scanner (or a more advanced adapter) and download a compatible app, such as Torque, from Google Play Store or AppleApp Store. For less than $15 dollars, you can get the hardware and software for such a company.
Once provided with the above, start by finding your car’s OBD II port. It is usually located under the steering wheel or in the driver’s footwell, not far from the hood opening. Other times it’s hidden behind the center console or in a compartment built into the floor. Connect the scanner, launch the app on your phone, and the error codes stored in the car’s control unit (ECU) will appear on your screen. Sometimes the codes are clearly explained, but other times you’ll have to do a bit of searching to find out what it means, for example P1301.
There are professional-grade code scanners that are more accurate, but also much more expensive. Alternatively, some auto parts stores will run a diagnostic test for free. However, getting a Bluetooth scanner and app will save you time and money while making you feel like a car expert.
So the light indicates when I should take my car to the workshop?
The check engine light provides insight—sometimes accurate, sometimes vague—of what’s wrong with a car. However, it is not a substitute for a skilled mechanic.
In other words, don’t wait until the check engine light comes on to take your car in for service. The light won’t warn you that the water pump is about to fail, that one of the ball joints is worn, or that the air conditioner will stop blowing. If your car sounds or smells funny, get it fixed or take it to someone who can.